Video Game ReviewsWritten Reviews

Hades: A Pleasurable Underworld Excursion

Hades is an isometric roguelite released by Supergiant Games in 2020. The 4th game in their catalogue doesn’t fail to deliver, presenting some of their best work with stellar voice acting, tight controls and a surprisingly compelling story all presented through a quick and exciting procedurally generated underworld. 

Supergiant Games

Release Date:
Sep 17, 2020

PC (Microsoft Windows) / Mac / Nintendo Switch

This review will cover the Switch release of the game however the PC version is identical besides some performance differences. For the Switch release, the technical elements of the game are its weakest point. The majority of the time the game performs well at 60FPS on an early generation Switch. It can struggle during later segments of the game, occasionally dropping down to 30FPS and below, as well as occasionally failing to display some visual elements of projectile attacks. However these technical issues are rare and while they have resulted in a few prematurely ended runs, you soon stop noticing as you mentally fill the gaps after learning the game. On PC, you can expect essentially flawless performance at 60FPS and higher on any mid-range systems. For example the game runs excellent on a GTX 970 and above. Tested on multiple Nvidia GPUs, the 9, 10 and 20 series all had zero issues with the game. 

Graphically the game has that usual Supergiant style to it. Visually striking and unique but always prioritizing clarity during the often intense gameplay. The environments and enemies are all adorned with beautifully inspired motifs of death and deity alike, centered around the Greek pantheon. Enemy designs are simple but unique, allowing players to easily read attacks and respond appropriately. With every area utilizing a unique color palette, it’s very easy to appreciate the visual design of the game while still being clued in on the best way to tackle the situation as you repeatedly traverse the underworld. The UI is also very clear and easy to read, character portraits presented in dialogue are expressive and very appropriate for the gods they portray, I’d like to see maybe two or three more illustrations for some of the more central characters to convey some of the more complex emotions that can come up during the side stories. 

The audio is no slouch either, with a diverse array of sound effects accompanying the many weapons, boons and environments of the game. They’re all mixed really well and even in the most hectic moments, the soundtrack and effects don’t stifle each other or descend into grinding chaos. I found the game much easier to play with a set of headphones, with many useful effects to warn the player of some of the longer range off screen attacks or enemy spawns in some of the larger rooms. The game is accompanied by a suitably epic soundtrack composed by Supergiant staple, Darren Korb with Ashley Barret returning again to deliver some excellent vocal performances for the few vocal tracks in the game. All the songs feature an appropriate mix of acoustic instruments, evoking a much more traditional aesthetic as opposed to the likes of Transistor which is expected but goes a long way to demonstrate how all elements of the game work in tandem to present this tale of ancient gods. I’d like to see a couple more tracks with vocal performances however finding room for them to be appreciated without distracting from the gameplay could be difficult and the tracks that are there are presented very well with ample space to appreciate them. A small note being that all the vocal performances are presented from a diegetic standpoint, meaning that the vocals come from characters singing within the game which adds a special touch, the lyrics informing us about the plights of the characters.

On both systems the controls are appropriately customisable. The Switch features remappable controls with a single input option for each action. I immediately changed my controls, remapping dodge and attack to shoulder buttons on Joycons but found myself returning to the defaults on the Pro Controller. Instances of frustration were extremely few and far between at the mercy of the controls. Almost all actions are quick and responsive with great feedback and visual clarity on attacks and movements. Traps and level hazards can be slightly vague on the radius of their damage zones but this is more of a visual issue over controls. Otherwise the game feels very appropriately paced for the controls, feeling snappy and responsive but not overwhelming.

You play as Zagreus, son of Hades, prince of the underworld, with the goal to escape to the surface to find answers to your past under the guise of reconnecting to your Olympian relatives in order to secure their help. The main plot is relatively simple and as with many Supergiant games, one of the main appeals is the details and intricacies of the other character you meet along the way. All of which are characters from Greek mythology. The most obvious of which, being the Olympian gods; serving as the main roguelike element of the game they frequently present you with boons to upgrade to your abilities and attacks. Each of the main Olympian gods have a suite of boons upgrading your primary attack, special/alt attack, cast, dodge and call. Alongside a number of unique boons matching their many themes such as Zeus’ lightning striking foes or Poseidon’s mastery over the seas sending foes crashing into the walls of the arena. These last for the duration of your run and alongside a cast of 6 extremely unique weapons, there are dozens upon dozens of unique builds to suit each gameplay style and keep it fresh. Not to mention some rare legendary and duo boons which come infrequently or with specific prerequisites to further enhance the level of depth each god and combat style can possess.

Many of the tales of the side characters will bear some resemblance to the plights of the characters present in the pantheon’s mythos such as Sisyphus and his boulder, one of the many side characters presented in the game. Accompanying these side characters is a simple but entertaining friendship/relationship mechanic involving the gifting of nectar and Ambrosia, Olympian delicacies and rewards from clearing rooms and bosses in game. Even on the hardest difficulty the game presented me with enough of these resources to let me advance at least one story line continually which ensures that you don’t get stuck in a loop of failed runs resulting in a lack of progression which I find is a common issue with roguelikes, there’s always side plots to progress and upgrades to be done. These upgrades could be in the form of upgrades to Zagreus’ abilities through a mirror located in his bedchambers, spending darkness to upgrade the number of dashes at your disposal, chance at rare boons or item rewards for rooms cleared. They can also be to the hub area you reside in before embarking on each escape attempt, the house of Hades. While many of the upgrades are cosmetic, several have functional elements that continue to add more mechanics and things to do outside of your underworld escape attempts as the novelty of the games mechanics become more standard. This results in a really pleasing balance of gameplay split between resource management, story progression and mechanically rewarding fights. I was continuing to unlock mechanics well after the credits rolled and have yet to find myself with nothing to strive for. 

The story as mentioned is simple but contains a wide cast of characters that each have their own dilemmas to be solved and developed as your relationship with them deepens. Assist Dusa in coming to terms with her work life balance or help Achilles settle some unfinished business alongside over half a dozen more unique plots with entertaining and endearing characters. I felt myself getting very attached to each unique character, very few of them felt shallow or frustrating. Alongside gameplay augmentations such as unique keepsakes that each have their own unique benefit during runs for each character; the plots themselves are a suitable reward for completion. The main character especially has a satisfying arc of bold arrogance masking many familiar insecurities and flaws with brilliant voice acting from Korb who does overtime as a voice actor as well as the composer. 

I’d like to talk about issues I have with the game but besides the few extra elements I’d like to see, I have no real complaints. The genre of roguelikes can be polarizing, with a large amount of repetition. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t find a lot of satisfaction in mechanically challenging games then you may find yourself feeling a little disappointed with some of the additional story elements as while they are excellent, they are an accompaniment and cannot carry the game single handedly. Ultimately we’re left with an extremely satisfying game that I’ve been able to put 30 minutes into then stop feeling comfortably accomplished, to playing it for upwards of 4 hours in one sitting. I haven’t been this satisfied with a game in years and it’s definitely one of if not my favorite game of the year. At a price point of £23/$25 I could not recommend it enough. I’ve gotten more than 50 hours of gameplay and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it hit upwards of 200. 

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